THEATRE CALL FOR ACTION PROPOSAL
This is a response to:
• A disproportionate representation of the theatre industry in both programming and executive decision making.
• A lack of engagement with grass-roots and youth-led organisations within communities.
• A lack of youth-led and grass roots organisations being integral to buildings, in outreach and executive decision-making.
• A lack of accountability within funding bodies.
• A lack of transparency surrounding programming procedures.
• A lack of transparency surrounding complaints procedures.
• A lack of transparency surrounding strategies to improve representation.
• Language in arts policy that doesn’t contain actionable steps.
• An oppresive environment that has been upheld by a culture of fear, through nepotism.
• A lack of transparency on the level of the intersectional funds and conflicts of interest in executive positions of power.
• A lack of any conversations to do with inclusivity including the Disabled community in a meaningful way.
CONTEXTUALISING THE POINTS
A disproportionate representation of the theatre industry in both programming and executive positions.
The industry has a history of blocking proper, nuanced representation by using language such as “BAME” to neutralise and lump everyone in as one under the umbrella of “non-white”. This also means that, alongside the word “minority”, it works to still include and centre whiteness.
There is a massive hole in the employees that are Black, Brown or any intersection. Also, this includes the Disabled, Transgender, Queer, Jewish, Armenian, Muslim, Working Class, Non-Binary/Gender Non-Conforming and other marginalised groups as well their intersections. Buildings have been able to uphold this disproportion with the term “BAME” as it invalidates our differences of experience and identities.
A lack of engagement with grass-roots and youth-led organisations within communities.
Engagement needs to mean more than a conversation. Many buildings we fear, don’t have conversations at all. Lots of buildings have said they find it difficult to engage with under-privileged communities, but by having meaningful relationships with grass-roots organisations with a long record of enriching and supporting these communities, you can utilise real change and support and also share the responsibility/workload. It is only beneficial.
A lack of accountability with funding bodies.
Funding bodies have been allowed to donate money to buildings on projects marketed towards a particular marginalised group. There is no visible way that is accessible to everyone that these funding boards are saying how they spend this money or deal with what happens to buildings and organisations when they don’t uphold the requirements for representation that we are said they have to abide by.
Independent charities such as the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation and others, are all private so operate as such. They give money to projects aimed at a particular group and then do not take any responsibility for HOW that money is used for that project. Out of sight, out of mind, but it increases their profile and helps them to look generous.
Independent charities have a tricky complaints process because of this. If a complaint is raised, independent funding bodies will normally direct the wronged artist back to the artistic director of the building, which is a huge conflict of interest.
Although the Arts Council makes a lot of their information public, there is still a lot of question about how Arts Council holds NPOs accountable for diversity quotas. Often, they find loopholes, including employing Black and “BAME” individuals in the organisations but not at executive levels, still meeting the criteria. The other loophole is they will put 1 or 2 Black or “BAME” individuals on their boards (unpaid) or youth boards (unpaid) which then technically meets this quota.
Accountability has to come from being more specific about the definitions of marginalised groups. The term “BAME” is not representative of every marginalised group. It also leaves gaps wide open for statistics to be skewed. It blocks a real chance to make positive steps forward to offer support to individual communities, including collaborating with grass-roots and youth-led organisations.
• A lack of transparency surrounding strategies to improve representation.
We have seen with current events and in the past with movements such as Me Too, there is often an overall message of solidarity, but no action plans are made. If they are, they are not made public. In terms of equality, this is breeding confusion and an environment made more volatile due to people’s frustrations of not knowing. When an injustice happens, it would be far better for building’s to be transparent about their plans to tackle it, or not showing a performative show of solidarity at all.
This also applies to – Language in arts policy that doesn’t contain actionable steps.
Many arts policies are aims focused which is necessary but if there isn’t action plans for understandable steps or a separate action plan document, it is hard for artists to understand a building’s process, alienating both the artist and the building.
- A lack of transparency on the level of the intersectional funds and conflicts of interest in executive positions of power.
There may be conflicts of interest in the industry regarding funding bodies. Intersectional funds would include Arts Council and independent bodies which fund across many forms of art, but also corporate sponsors who would fund various arts buildings. It has long been discussed that nepotism runs through the industry. This breeds an inaccessible environment which could potentially be stunting progress for emerging artists. “It’s not what you do but who you know.” is a common proverb within our industry. We feel this has caused many problems, including complicating complaints processes as it doesn’t leave people in positions of power impartial.
We would like to offer the following solutions:
• A focus on making the complaints processes through the industry through conversations and collaboration with the organisations or through the setting up of an independent body that deals with complaints. If an independent body is made, the independent body will of course collaborate, but will stay impartial.
• A redistribution of wealth to grass roots community and youth-led organisations with histories of working within the communities. A focus on making sure these buildings have a meaningful and integral relationships with these organisations, ideally at an executive level.
• An accountability model for funding organisations to adhere that makes them lay out their complaints process and a record of where they are putting their money and how much involvement they have with the projects after they have given the money.
• In terms of traumatic plays being programmed, a focus on doing work with organisations within those communities to facilitate the building’s role and responsibility to the community whilst they are in the building. Also, look at a portion of ticket sales being donated to community led organisations to carry on the work and position the building/organisation as a transparent and active ally.
A lack of any conversations to do with inclusivity including the Disabled community in a meaningful way.
As many talks have been had about the issue of diversity, we feel a lot of conversations do not consider the very real accessibility issues of the industry. We have found that conversations of this sort, are normally focused around physical disabilities which invalidates many other disabilities which may need support for access. There should be a nuanced and serious talks about disability representation and accessibility.
CONTEXT ON THE PRIMARY POINT.
In this capitalist society, we admit that structural change often comes down to funding. There are power inequalities due to the fact that wealth means protection. A single artist with a grievance can often not take on the lawyers or legal fees sometimes needed to take true accountability. As we stand in a time to process and reflect on our industry, we see various injustices, which have been learnt over generations of a top down power and economical power structure.
We feel that, this can be addressed with a community refocus, starting with funding. If community and youth-led organisations are held as a base for learning and a source of knowledge but also powerful influencers of our practice and future, our industry will only prosper.
However, as this is the main driving factor of this change, this must be done correctly. It would be unhelpful to make this change and handle it in the same manner that diversity quotas have already been handled.
Many grass-roots, community and youth-led organisations have unique values and needs which should be at the core of the conversations. It has to serve the organisations so they can serve their communities best.
- Buildings often express difficulties with engagement and building trust with marginalised communities. If there was a meaningful relationship between grass-roots organisations and buildings, it would strengthen the efforts that engagement teams could have with marginalised communities. It is only beneficial to utilise the history of trust and meaningful work these organisations have done.
- If buildings/organisations were seen to be active allies to marginalised communities, including integrating donations to organisations, it would bring in more audiences and generate more revenue as audience members would feel they are giving to good causes whilst consuming art.
- Corporate sponsors’ arts contribution raises their profile through integrity and philanthropy. If there was a restructure with a focus to community, it would raise their profile even further.
- With films like Black Panther, Moonlight and Get Out grossing over 1 billion and documentaries commenting on black issues such 13th, Who Killed Malcolm X, the Defiant Ones and The Rapture having top consumption ratings, there is a dire need and viable economical value for Black art. With an extension of this to various other marginalised communities, further revenue would generate, bringing in new audiences and reinforcing the validity of art within our culture. We have already seen this with the successes of Barbershop Chronicles, Nine Night, Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner, The Mountaintop and various others which have generated significant revenue.
- With a refocus, it will boost morale all over the sector and create brighter and bigger work than we’ve ever had before. If there is a focus on how the industry can serve us with its power, we will serve it in return to the highest degree including a renewed faith in buildings.
We hold no assumptions that we are operating in a system that may be resistant to redistribute wealth and power as it has had a long history of being disproportionate.
With the long-term abuses of power in the industry, tensions, frustrations and general trauma has been on a consistent rise long before any of us. With the catalyst of George Floyd and Belly Mujinga’s deaths, there has been overdue upheaval and a release of tension into the world on a global scale. This, is civil disobedience. This is our attempt at channelling that civil disobedience in our industry into direct action and working with an industry that has been transformative for so many of us. We have heard the problems of meaningful engagement that buildings face with disadvantaged communities, as they describe them. We believe that a focus on community led and youth-led organisations is an integral and necessary step moving forward.
However, we understand that, there are many nuances to this conversation. There are individual interests and business models throughout the industry that conflict with this, including sponsorships, although it may be beneficial to them too. There is much to discuss regarding this document. It is not perfect, but it acts as a suggestion to redistribute power through economical means which will then aid in addressing the other concerns listed.
We welcome discussion on this document.
However, if there is an outright neglect or dismissal and no room for acknowledgement or conversation, respectfully, as a last resort, we could potentially stage a theatrical revolt through the art of protest.
The protests could look like:
- Economical protest in the form of cancelling subscriptions to various paid publications and union.
- Stage sit-ins, when buildings are reopened.
- Peaceful protests outside of buildings.
- Consistent communication through email templates that may disrupt your digital communication channels.
Legally, regarding defamation, it is true that slander or libel can applied if there is proof that comments have brought about financial loss. However, should there need to be a revolt, which we hope won’t be necessary, we have a good standing to say we have attempted to peacefully and respectively work with the industry for the befit of its future. There is no defamatory language in this document and when initiating a revolt, we would not use defamatory language. Even in our revolt, we are operating from positivity and direct, immovable action.
We hope that you will be in solidarity with us for structural change, and stand in the light of a new tomorrow for all of us. We have an opportunity we have never had before and we can all thrive from this as a unit, celebrating work from all cultures and centring safe, joyous spaces that hold virtue and value in our lives.